When Laura Naukkarinen adheres to her minimalist acoustic folk variations, the feeling she exposes is one of gorgeous isolation. Though this is not always deployed lyrically, the delicate fumbling of strings accompanied by soft and tender percussion embodies an air of unrelenting seclusion, void of resentment or remorse. On Valohiukkanen, this highly alluring state is compromised, for it is used to explore possibilities outside of the introverted spheres composed in efforts past. This latest release partly nurtures such emotive pondering before a half-hearted personality crisis ensues, and the detour is memorable solely for the fact that it takes place and is subsequently a destructive force that triumphs for far longer than it should before Lau Nau succumbs once again to her own delicate, playful frameworks.
It would be perilously disenchanting to solely dwell on features pursued here that disappointingly drift from what the artist is better known for. After all, restraint is a timely virtue to be found at the core of Naukkarinen’s canon; hushed and tangling vocals embody a fascinating instance of desire on previous efforts such as “Kuula,” which are restrained through musical structure and instrumentation — tinny strings are ushered across the track length by haunting wind instruments and gasping vocals, which distinctly keep an apparent yearning to tantrum at bay. Such degrees of curtailment remain implicit to the song’s most fascinating qualities, but they all become hurriedly untangled on this latest offering.
“Kuoleman Tappajan Kuolema” is the lead single from the new album and the main offender in veering from such a delicately preened pathway. It is a bland digression that seeps any careful deployment of constraint from the music surrounding it; the song flirts with a horrible Euro-pop disco beat that is altogether best forgotten, for it does not hold the rest of the music in a particularly favorable light. The decision to include it here is no doubt a response to the burning determination so apparent on those abstract acoustic compositions, but it sounds puzzlingly insipid against previous releases. This is not merely due to an artistic decision to write a dance/pop piece, for the Windows Have Eyes live version is a huge improvement on the studio edition, which sets a benchmark in tedium that the remaining tracks do not even come close to — those lovable, weird Finnish folk idiosyncrasies are still very much apparent here.
This is most graciously achieved on the last two numbers, where space on the lyric translation sheet remains blank. The frosty and cunning “Silmät” opens with fragile piano curves and discreet tintinnabulation that sit beautifully underneath Naukkarinen’s startling vocals as phantasmal vocal loop pedaling transpires. A solid instance of incessant restraint, this lovely composition embodies the work of an artist on the edge of release, while displaying the capacity to hold back and redirect determined force. Such tact is also echoed on “Mirjam,” which is undoubtedly more refined and even-tempered, but still manages to retain a firm, charming astuteness, despite its brevity.
Naukkarinen recently moved to Kimito Island in an attempt to distance herself from urban environments and embrace the Baltic wilderness. The move alludes to an impulse for clasping abstract models in her art and a veering toward sylvan compositional strategies so very lacking on Valohiukkanen. Though there are some undoubtedly graceful moments on tracks such as “Hämärän hevoset” and album opener “Valolle,” they are few and far between; those gingerly rugged folk fumblings have given way to a more refined sound bearing a tendency to swell in rather unsavory directions. This may be a fresh bent for Lau Nau, but that enthusiasm to unleash and branch out always seemed more attractive when it was left brooding under the surface, where it achieved its most engaging results. Valohiukkanen sees the musician all the more exposed and thereupon less stimulating as a consequence.